Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wild Bees, Bumble Bees, Hedgehogs - Gardeners' sustainable living project

This post is my contribution to Jan's sustainable living project over at Thanks for Today. She has a great thing going, gathering blog posts and other sources on how gardeners all over the world are trying in their own small way to make the earth a more livable place. Be sure to take a look at her project - and not *just* because there are great garden-related prizes to win.

I guess like many gardeners I, too, am trying to inflict as little damage as possible on the other inhabitants of my garden. This means not using pesticides, and trying to provide a friendly environment for creatures that have a hard time in our densely populated, highly industrialized area.

In addition to our birdhouse, which is occupied each spring by a pair of blue tits, I've tried to attract wild bees, bumble bees, and hedgehogs, but so far have only been successful with the wild bees.

Putting up "wild bee hotels" has been a "wild" success. Almost before we were finished mounting them on our garden cottage, various types of solitary wild bees started to inhabit the hotels, both of which I purchased from workshops which employ the handicapped. Up till now I think I've identified the Osmia bicornis or horned bee (rote Mauerbiene in German). There are some other larger, black species I cannot identify. Within days all the holes in the hotels were occupied and many of them sealed shut. It's a delight to watch the bees and listen to them hum, and they completely ignore us humans. These bees are important pollinators for many native plants and have trouble finding the kind of rotting wood they prefer for nesting in our well-kept parks and forests. The hotels should be mounted facing south, and protected if possible from the rain by a roof.

Of course it's also possible to construct such hotels yourself, simply by drilling holes of various sizes (3-5mm in diameter) into a piece of hardwood about 10 cm thick. You can also bundle up hollow reeds, for example from dried Miscanthus grass. The hotel on the right in the above picture also is intended to attract ladybugs, earwigs and butterflies, but I don't know yet if this will work. The bees certainly went for both hotels.

Bumble bee house: Very early each spring our garden is visited by plenty of bumble bees, and I very much wanted to also offer them a place to live. So I purchased a bumble bee house designed to meet these creatures' needs. So far no luck, though. I've tried putting it in various places, including sunken into the ground up to the opening, at the time of year when the queen bumble bees are looking for an abode. You can just see the house at the back right of this picture, under the blackberries and behind the Lenten roses. I really took the photo to show off the Lenten roses.

Hedgehog shelter: Hoping to attract hedgehogs as natural predators for my slugs and also because they are just so adorable, we built a hedgehog shelter in a quiet corner of the garden. At the base of the shelter is a wicker construction covered first with a tarp to keep it dry, and then with earth, branches and twigs.On the floor we put soft straw and dry leaves.

This was a project that even got my teenage daughter into the garden. Although the shelter is on the border to the nature preserve right outside our garden, to date no hedgehogs have taken up residence. Neighbors have told me that there were more hedgehogs in the allotment colony before the very effective fence was put up around the perimeter in order to keep out rabbits and deer. We're still hoping.